The Art of War from a US Marine: Civilization V Battle Tactics, Part 3

written by NorthStarGuide on May 20, 2011 in Classic Posts and Special Feature and Tips, Tricks, and Guides

In our final Art of War installment, we’re looking at how important terrain can be when going on both the offensive and defensive; how diplomacy can be used as a military support; and how best to utilize your spies to wreak havoc in your enemies’ cities!

Part 3: Terrain, Diplomacy and Spies


If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Civilization V terrainIn combat the terrain in which the battle is fought is of utmost importance. In modern warfare the soldier is taught to be able to successfully battle in many terrains, switching from urban warfare to mountain combat in days or sometimes hours. Selecting the terrain in which to strike your foe or defend against the blow of the same is a vital tactic for the commander in the field. We touched on the nature of defensive fortifications in a previous column, and the information comes back here, except nature is providing our defense for us. In the real world, high ground with limited access and either good dirt to dig into or rocky terrain that can provide natural fortification and force the enemy into tight locations can make it easier for them to be engaged by your troops. This is similar to the tactics used by King Leonidas of Sparta during the famous battle of the 300.

Obviously the tactical advantages and disadvantages are a little simplified in Civilization V, but it’s a video game and a high level strategy game, not a lower level tactics game where the exact placement of individual troops can affect your outcome. You move whole units instead. Choose your battlegrounds so that your troops are attacking from terrain that gives them a defensive bonus, or if the troops in question are veteran troops, try to tailor the terrain to the upgrades they have, such as rough or clear terrain bonuses. Use every bit of combat power to your advantage to give yourself a decisive victory in the field.


One can never have enough friends, especially friends who help you get rid of more powerful enemies. Diplomacy is a vital tool in your box as a general and leader. You might covet the land, resources and cities of your neighbor, but why not wait to engage them in open warfare until you’re ready? Indeed, lulling the enemy in to a false sense of safety, letting them get complacent, or focusing on other things while you position your forces to strike with blinding speed and ferocity is just the kind of deception that results in you taking the momentum and never having to give it back.

Civilization V nuke

Perhaps not the most diplomatic strategy...

In Civilization V, of course, diplomacy can also allow you to gain strategic resources such as horses and iron without the need to engage in military combat with your neighbors. It will also give you a strategic advantage over your closer neighbors if they happen to be in the same boat as you with regards to certain strategic resources. For example, in the open parts of the last Civ V round I played, I was near Germany. Neither of our states had horses, but I had a good supply of luxury goods. My relationship with the Germans was already strained, so I arranged to trade gemstones for horses with the Egyptians, who I had a good relationship with. When it finally came time do deal with the problem directly and attack the Germans, I had the advantage of a mobile, well-armed force of cavalry and infantry instead of just the basic infantry units possessed by my foe. The route of the enemy was quick and clean, thanks to proper use of diplomacy.


As I said in the section on scouting, there’s no such thing as too much intelligence–the more you can see and the more you know about the conditions of the enemy, the better you can attack him and derail his own strategy. As the game progresses and you gain the use of actual spies, a whole number of tactics opens up to you that will allow you to sow chaos in the cities of the enemy you seek to attack. Poison, propaganda, dissent and out right rebellion all work in your favor as your army begins to march across the lands of your foe. With proper preparation and propaganda sown by your faithful spies, not only will you know where and how to attack, but when you do, the enemy’s own people will welcome you with open arms for casting down the tyrant who once ruled them.


I hope you’ve all enjoyed this special set of articles on strategy tactics for Civilization V. Glory to your allies and a pox on your foe!


Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War